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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

New Zealand Touts Coronavirus Response; U.S. Meat Supply Chain in Danger?; National Guard Being Put in Harm's Way?;. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired April 27, 2020 - 16:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[16:30:00]

DR. SEEMA YASMIN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: To answer your question about, like, why are there so many differences, we're thinking that, when you have a situation with such a wide range of disease severity and disease symptoms, this is pointing a lot more to the host's immune system, more so than it is to the virus itself.

And so it's looking here like people with chronic conditions are more vulnerable, older folks are more vulnerable, because there's some underlying inflammation going on. The immune system is out of whack. It's really over-responding.

And that might be why so many systems, so many organ systems, are involved, and why we're seeing such a wide range of disease symptoms and severity across the board.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: So I read a great piece in "New York Magazine."

They did a deep dive on how much guidance has changed over the past few months from health experts. We went from thinking masks were unnecessary to saying that we should wear them at all times whenever we leave the house, thinking there was no asymptomatic transmission to believing it accounts for as many as half of all cases, asymptomatic transmission, from thinking young people were invulnerable to not being invulnerable.

Is this normal for a new virus like this to -- for the health recommendations and guidance to be all over the map?

YASMIN: So, unfortunately, when you are faced with a new pathogen, you're learning by the day.

You're figuring out -- you're collecting as much data as possible, trying to understand, how is this thing spreading? What can be done to protect people? Unfortunately, what's happened is lots of missteps in the communication of that information.

So, sure, this is a very difficult task. That information is changing very frequently, but public health communication 101 is transparency and simplicity. And, unfortunately, we haven't seen those. We have seen so much misinformation. We have seen such quick changes in the guidance. But I think, ultimately, it leaves a lot of the public just confused and wondering, wait, you said not to wear masks. Now you're saying we should. Like, does this make any difference and what should we believe?

So that's been a real hindrance in this pandemic response.

TAPPER: I also think it feeds into a certain skepticism that we see among some when it comes to what health officials are saying, unfortunately.

There was also a piece in "The Times" about silent hypoxia. The doctor found stable patients who didn't report any sensation of any breathing problems registering low oxygen levels and COVID pneumonia. Explain the significance of that.

YASMIN: So, silent hypoxia -- and I talked to some New York City hospital physicians who told me the same.

Hypoxia is just a medical term for low oxygen. Silent hypoxia is this picture which we're seeing in COVID-19 in some cases where you look at the patient's oxygen saturation, so the amount of oxygen in their bloodstream, and it's really low, to the point that when you look at the reading, you think, is this person even conscious?

But then you look at the patient with COVID-19 and they're sitting up in their bed and they're talking on their cell phone. So the two things don't match together.

And with clinical medicine, as high-tech as it might seem, a lot of what you're doing when you're making a diagnosis is pattern recognition. So you get used to seeing the clinical picture of what pneumonia looks like. But COVID-19 is turning some of this on its head.

I have talked to doctors who say, we did a chest X-ray on someone or did a chest C.T. because they came in with an injury. And then we were like, wait, do they have a COVID-19 pneumonia, but they don't have any shortness of breath or any problems with breathing?

So this is another instance, Jake, of the information changing quickly and us learning day by day that sometimes the symptoms appear differently in people and that what we normally look for in pneumonia might be a bit different with COVID-19.

TAPPER: Yes, it remains a real mystery.

Dr. Seema Yasmin, thank you so much. Appreciate your time and expertise.

YASMIN: Thank you.

TAPPER: Tens of thousands of National Guard members on the front lines of the pandemic.

Next, I will talk with a retired general who says the Guards men and women are being put in harm's way without proper health insurance.

Stay with us.

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[16:38:15]

TAPPER: The National Guard has been activated in all 50 states of the United States, nearly 45,000 personnel assisting in response to the novel coronavirus, and handling some of the most grim and dangerous tasks, including transporting dead bodies to medical examiners and disinfecting nursing homes.

And even as these Guardsmen and Guardswomen are on the front lines, they are not guaranteed the same medical insurance that full-time members of the military receive even during this all-consuming pandemic.

Joining me now to talk about this is retired General J. Roy Robinson. He's president of the U.S. National Guard Association.

General Robinson, it's an honor to have you on. Thank you.

Let me ask you, 75 percent of U.S. service members involved in coronavirus response are National Guard. What if they get the virus while serving on the front lines? What happens?

GEN. J. ROY ROBINSON (RET.), PRESIDENT, U.S. NATIONAL GUARD ASSOCIATION: Mr. Tapper, thank you so much for having us. I really appreciate it.

I think most of your audience will be surprised that every service member that responded to this pandemic may not be covered by the TRICARE insurance program that most of the active service members have access to.

It's basically -- it's all dependent on the status that they're in. Right now, of that almost 55,000 -- 45,000 members that are currently serving, about 70 -- about 82 percent are actually under federal status.

All of them may or may not be covered. And there's also about 7,700 that are still in a state active-duty status, which, in most cases, they aren't covered by the health insurance associated with their service.

This is something that we have been talking about for a long time. And I'm grateful that you're raising this in the public forum like this.

TAPPER: Well, it's an injustice.

And we should point out that at least 792 members of the National Guard have tested positive for coronavirus as of today. This is not ending anytime soon. We don't know if they got it while in the service of their Guard duties or not.

[16:40:13]

But what do you need? What does the National Guard need to protect your men and women?

ROBINSON: It's very simple.

I think that the truth is that every member that wears the cloth of this nation, it shouldn't be dependent on the status that they're in. They should have health care coverage. It should be connected to their service. If that was the case, every member of the National Guard that was responding today would be covered by some form of health care.

Right now, I think it's -- actually, it's outrageous that we would send some of these front-line -- keep in mind, these are right on the front lines with doctors, nurses and Guardsmen who are standing there beside them.

And some of which, they're covered, and some of which, they are not. And in this day and time in the year 2020 in this country, I think it's outrageous that some of these members of the National Guard are responding to this global pandemic, and they may or may not be covered for any sickness that's associated with it.

And if you look at the numbers, I mean, that's a pretty large percentage of the members that are currently mobilized that some of which have tested positive for the coronavirus.

TAPPER: It is outrageous. You have every right to feel that way.

When National Guards men and women, when National Guard soldiers are sent abroad, they're given transitional medical support for six months, should they face any issues upon their return.

This virus can take weeks to present itself. We know that. Is their transitional support for the men and women of the Guard who may have come in contact with the virus while serving, while going into the nursing homes to clean them, while carrying the dead bodies to the medical examiner?

Is there that kind of transitional support?

ROBINSON: Jake, I wish there was.

The TANF program is for those soldiers who are deployed overseas. Whenever they come home and redeploy, they have six months of coverage under the TRICARE program. It's just not there. This is going to have to change.

Number one, there's no reason in the world we should ever send a member of the National Guard out to do the things that they're doing in response to this pandemic without being covered. And the second part of that equation is, there's no way that we should ever, at the end of this mission, return that soldier or airman to their home without having some means to quarantine for 14 days, and having some way for them to continue to have health coverage with their families out into the near future. I mean, nobody knows exactly how long some of the things that could

happen associated with their exposure could -- it would take for it to show up. So we feel strongly that this is something that needs to be addressed. It needs to be addressed now.

We're in the middle of this pandemic. We have got -- the authority today to cut these orders is only through May 31. I got to be honest with you. I think that's an artificial kind of date that was put out there. I think it's a bureaucratic process that sometimes does not work in the best interests of the members of the National Guard, who, keep in mind, again, they're right there with the nurses and the doctors and all of our Guard members on the front lines of responding to this nation for this global pandemic.

TAPPER: Absolutely.

General J. Roy Robinson, thank you so much for your service. We're going to stay on this story. So, stay in touch, because we're going to keep coming back to you until this wrong is righted. So thank you very much, sir. Appreciate it.

ROBINSON: Thank you so much, Jake. Take care.

TAPPER: Before you stock up at the grocery store, new details out today on what the CDC is doing to try to prevent a shortage of meat. That's next.

Stay with us.

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[16:48:06]

TAPPER: The CDC is urging meat processing plants to change the way they do business in an effort to both protect the workers and the consumers, and also to try to keep more of these plants open.

New guidelines suggest that plant owners need to add physical barriers between workers, stagger in and out times, and create overnight shifts.

This comes as three major plants in South Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa have been forced closed. Together, they make up roughly 15 percent of the U.S. pork production.

Let's bring in CNN's Dianne Gallagher to talk more about this.

Dianne, the chair of Tyson Foods just warned that the food supply chain is breaking. Industry experts say that it's vulnerable, but not yet in crisis. What might all this mean for when we go to the grocery store or order Instacart?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's going to mean that there's like variety, Jake. It's going to mean that potentially the exact type of meat, the cut, the -- if you want pork or beef or chicken, if you want it to be chicken wings or a nice pork chop or something like that, you might not find exactly that.

It also means that we're going to see less of a variety in some of these brands as their plants shut down. You mentioned those three pork production plants. That only represents about half of the pork production.

That's offline right now, smaller plants, other plants that are closing briefly. We're looking at between 25 and 30 percent of pork production offline right now, about 10 percent of beef production offline.

And when that's the case, the farmers don't have anywhere to send their livestock. So we are seeing blips in the food chain, but it's not at a crisis level, at least when you're going to the grocery store right now.

TAPPER: Well, yes, let's -- let me focus on the farmers there and on that end of the chain here.

If these plants are closing, does that mean that farmers have fewer places to sell their livestock, and then their businesses will be in trouble?

[16:50:03]

GALLAGHER: It does.

And right now, Jake, if there is a crisis involving with our food chain, it's with the farmers. They don't have anywhere to send their livestock right now. The Minnesota Pork Producers Association said, at this point, there's about a million hogs in the United States that just have nowhere to go.

In fact, the board there said that they're looking at potentially having to euthanize 200,000 hogs in just Minnesota alone if they can't find somewhere to take them.

In Iowa, the governor and the U.S. senators sent a letter to the USDA asking for help from the federal government, help with getting these plants reopened and running again safely.

And also, Jake, important here, mental health assistance. Farmers have a very high suicide rate as an industry anyway. And they said that this financially is becoming even more difficult for them and they need help.

TAPPER: All right, Dianne Gallagher on top of an important story, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

One country now claiming it has eliminated coronavirus. Is that true? If so, how did they do it?

That's next.

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[16:55:38]

TAPPER: In our world lead today: U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is back to work after battling coronavirus, addressing the public today, saying the U.K. is showing signs of passing through the peak of this virus, but urging those in the U.K. to contain their impatience for the country to reopen.

CNN's Bianca Nobilo joins me now.

Bianca, did the prime minister give any sense of when things might start to reopen in the U.K.?

BIANCA NOBILO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, the prime minister's primary message was that he was back, 9:00 a.m., on a Monday on the steps of Downing Street. He's back at the helm of government.

He was less specific on exactly what the country is going to do next. An end to the lockdown is certainly not imminent, but there is an end in sight. The way that Boris Johnson, in his typical evocative style described it, was as if the coronavirus was an invisible mugger and Britain had wrestled it to the floor.

It was, he said, the moment of maximum risk, but also maximum opportunity to finally get the advantage over the virus. So, whatever happens is going to be a phased return to normal life.

Now, there's definitely a sense of relief in the country and definitely within the prime minister's party and having him back. His natural optimism and his keep calm, carry on attitude is good for them. But it's definitely going to be difficult for Boris, now that he's back, and that's because the prime minister is facing really tough questions, Jake.

Why was he not present at key meetings with his top advisers, the so- called Cobra meetings, in the lead-up, that critical period before the peak of the pandemic? And why is Britain on track to have one of the worst death tolls, not just in Europe, but in the world, Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Bianca Nobilo, thank you so much. Stay safe.

New Zealand is now claiming that they have eliminated coronavirus. The director of general health in that country announcing that the government is easing restrictions from level four to level three.

New Zealand's prime minister has been widely praised for her quick and aggressive response to COVID-19. New Zealand has reported fewer than 1,500 cases and only 19 deaths.

CNN's Ivan Watson joins me now from Hong Kong.

Ivan, so the government of New Zealand is saying they have essentially eliminated the virus, but they're still keeping lockdown restrictions?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They are.

I mean, they have had this strict lockdown for four weeks. And it's been relatively successful, as you pointed out, only 19 deaths for a country with a relatively small population, but still something to be proud about.

But the prime minister is saying there is no time to celebrate right now. They are easing down the lockdown from alert level four, which was aimed at eliminating the disease from New Zealand's shores, to alert level three, which is now aimed at restricting it. And that goes into effect as of midnight Monday night in New Zealand.

What does that mean? Well, they're going to start opening up the economy, but they have announced that social life must stay shut down. They're anticipating about 400,000 Kiwis will go back to work. They're saying those who can should still work from home. And people who have stores and shops, they have to engage in what they call contact-free retail.

So, shoppers can't actually go into stores. They have to pick up at the curb. Children up to the age of 10 can go back to school. Older than that still have to study from home. And you can now have gatherings of up to 10 people, but for weddings and funerals only. They're trying to still restrict a lot of domestic travel.

International travel to and from New Zealand is still shut. And this is quite popular so far. A recent poll shows 87 percent support from those surveyed for these tough measures that the government has taken.

One of the big challenges is going to be, when can they open up to international travel? New Zealand depends heavily, its economy, on foreign tourism -- Jake.

TAPPER: Ivan Watson, thanks so much.

We want to take a moment now to reflect on the sad fact that thousands of Americans have died of coronavirus and are doing so every day. And now that number in the United States is more than 55,000.

These are your neighbors, your colleagues, and, in many circumstances, your family and friends.

Today, we remember just one of those lost.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NANCY A. ROSS, SISTER OF CORONAVIRUS VICTIM: When they took my sister off the vent, my nephew and I were able to be in the room with her. Her eyes opened just a little bit.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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